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Over or Out; Deciding between Separate Maintenance and Divorce

After years of maintaining a façade of a happy home and blissful marriage, the tension increases and the silence grows louder.  Does love live here anymore? Is it time to call it quits or should we just separate and maintain status quo?  Many couples are plagued with feeling stuck as they are not sure if it is time to make a permanent decision to end things, or if space and time away from each other is the cure their marriage is longing for.  Either way, no need to feel like a genie trapped in a bottle forced to cater to others but stuck unable to help yourself, as there are legal options that provided a “win-win” for both parties feeling trapped in the distancing marriage.

For various reasons like taxes, legal liability, moral obligation, children, societal pressure, religious practice, and even the fear of hurting the other spouse, many couples are stuck in limbo knowing their romantic flame has absolutely dwindled but are unsure if a formal divorce would be the best course of action for them to go their separate ways as they seek true peace and happiness.  While remaining married might have some perks, sometimes the increasing tensions may feel suffocating, yet divorce may not seem like a plausible option as it may impact one or both spouses in ways that are beyond just emotion.  However, many states allow parties to maintain the perks of being married, separately, rather than in forced union.  Most know the concept as “legal separation” however in Georgia, it is called “Separate Maintenance”, and it is just that— maintaining a marriage, but separately, physically and mentally.  In Georgia, either spouse, or both in agreement, may initiate an action for Separate Maintenance.  Separate Maintenance allows spouses to remain married but apart.  In essence the spouses will legally remain married but are allowed to live separately while continuing to receive marital benefits such as financial support, child support and healthcare coverage, for example.

On the surface, the Separate Maintenance provides the effects of a divorce such as spousal support, child custody, and child support, however the marriage is not permanently dissolved. Additionally, in a Separate Maintenance Agreement, the legal status of shared marital property does not have to change, but can remain the property of the marriage, rather than one spouse’s separate property.

Another procedural perk of Separate Maintenance is that the filing spouse (the “Petitioner”) is not required to be a resident of the state of Georgia for six months prior to filing the action, whereas in Georgia the residency requirement for filing for divorce is a minimum of six months. Essentially, Separate Maintenance actions are similar to divorce actions in that a court can award child support, alimony, child custody and resolve other legal issues that may be determined during a divorce action on a temporary/ indefinite basis.  However, in order to initiate the process of Separate Maintenance, a spouse must file in a Georgia Superior Court in their respective county, and the other spouse must be served, or must submit a signed Acknowledgment of Service.

So, is the marriage truly over or would you like to just be out– for a temporary or indefinite amount of time? By considering Separate Maintenance, spouses can live independently while taking time to analyze whether permanently ending the marriage would be the next best course of action, or whether time and space would assist the parties in working out issues within their marriage. Even after a Separate Maintenance is granted, the couple can decide to reconcile and physically reunite their marriage or, when ready, move along to a full fledged divorce.

Renee Richardson